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Adrian Beltre's 3,000th Hit Cements Place as Most Underrated Star of Generation

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 30, 2017

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 04: Adrian Beltre #29 of the Texas Rangers smiles after hitting his 600th career double in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 4, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
R. Yeatts/Getty Images

The newest member of MLB's 3,000-hit club deserves a proper introduction.

Everyone, please welcome Adrian Beltre, who's so much better than he's gotten credit for.

Playing in his 51st game of the season with the Texas Rangers and the 2,771st game of his 20-year major league career, Beltre notched career hit No. 3,000 with a double down the left field line in the fourth inning against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.

Here it is, in living color:

MLB @MLB

No. 3,000. #Beltre3k https://t.co/ijGH1cvAPU

With that, the 38-year-old third baseman joined one of Major League Baseball's most exclusive clubs.

If the 3,000-hit club issued actual membership cards, the degree of its exclusivity would be captured in a number emblazoned next to Beltre's name: 31. Prior to Sunday, the club had only 30 members

This might as well be Beltre's ticket to Cooperstown.

Only six 3,000-hit club members aren't already in the Hall of Fame: Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki and Beltre. Rose is officially banned. Palmeiro is virtually banned and is off the ballot to boot. The 3,000-hit club is otherwise free to improve to 29-for-31. Once Jeter, A-Rod, Suzuki and Beltre become eligible, it likely will. 

Of course, one doesn't need a 3,000-hit-club membership to get into Cooperstown.

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The Hall of Fame features plaques for dozens of players who fell short, including Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr. and each of the newest inductees: Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez.

These guys made the grade as all-time greats despite not collecting 3,000 hits. And while it's a nice feather in his cap, the same would also be true of Beltre even if he didn't have 3,000 hits.

Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated has already made this argument, and he would know. He wrote the book on evaluating Cooperstown worthiness, and he's also the inventor of the go-to stat for the task: JAWS.

That's short for "Jaffe WAR Score System," which combines a player's career wins above replacement with his wins above replacement at his peak. The result is a handy guideline of baseball's brightest stars.

Among third basemen, Beltre shines brighter than all but a few:

RankPlayerJAWS
1Mike Schmidt82.5
2Eddie Mathews75.4
3Wade Boggs73.6
4Adrian Beltre71.0
5George Brett70.8

This isn't WAR doing a statistical balloon-animal trick and turning a scrub into a superstar.

Beltre has been a heck of a hitter. The .925 OPS he carried into Sunday had boosted his career OPS to a rock-solid .820. And he's now one of only four players with over 3,000 hits, 450 home runs and 600 doubles.

The others? Three more Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Carl Yastrzemski.

Beltre has been a heck of a defender as well. He's the career leader in both defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating. Not just at third base. At any position.

That's a credit not just to his longevity, but to his ageless playmaking ability. Like so:

Beltre should be a Hall of Famer when his time comes. Not "might be." Not "could be." Just "should be." There's no good argument to the contrary.

If it feels like there should be, that's only because Beltre's 3,000th hit is a rare moment when he's been alone in the spotlight.

Given his place among his contemporaries, that's odd. While wearing the colors of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and now the Rangers, Beltre has accumulated more WAR since his rookie year in 1998 than all but two players. He's unquestionably one of his generation's greatest players.

You just wouldn't know it from looking at his hardware.

Those two players ahead of Beltre? Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, who have six MVP awards and 24 All-Star selections between them. Just below Beltre is Chipper Jones, who won an MVP and made eight All-Star teams. Down a couple spots is Miguel Cabrera, who has two MVPs and 11 All-Star selections.

But Beltre himself? Zero MVPs and just four All-Star selections. 

His position is partially to blame. Third base isn't as sexy as, say, shortstop or center field. And over the years, Beltre often hasn't stood out as the hot corner's top star.

Via Baseball Reference, WAR tells the tale:

Early in his career, Beltre lagged behind Jones and Scott Rolen. He finally broke out as a superstar when he launched 48 homers in 2004, but he then went to Seattle and lost his momentum to injuries and (even more so) Safeco Field.

Since 2010, however, Beltre has been far and away MLB's most productive third baseman. And to be fair, he hasn't gone unnoticed. This stretch contains all four of his All-Star appearances, three of his five Gold Gloves and three of his four Silver Sluggers.

Given MLB's sudden wealth of star third basemen—see Josh Donaldson, Kris Bryant, Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado—and wealth of stars in general, the only way Beltre could have found more recognition is if his star power eclipsed his productivity. That requires a little something extra.

But as it happens, therein lie even more reasons Beltre should be celebrated.

All anyone can ask of players is that they play well, work hard and have fun. If a player seems underrated, it's probably because he checks the first box but not the other two.

Beltre, however, has always checked all three.

He became an everyday player in 1999 and averaged 147 games per season between then and 2016. This despite frequently being hurt, often in serious ways. 

"I do what I do because I love it," he told Howard Megdal for Sports on Earth in 2014. "I don't play for what the media thinks. I like to have the respect of my peers, my teammates around me. It's what I've done in the game, that's it."

Beltre doesn't love what he does just in the abstract. Nobody has more fun playing baseball than he does. It shows in his section of MLB's YouTube page, which features as many hijinks as highlights. They range from backwards helmet-wearing to impromptu dancing to arm flailing to vengeance for head-touching.

Sometimes, his hijinks and highlights are one and the same:

This is how Beltre rolls. He can render an audience thoroughly impressed and thoroughly entertained. By all rights, he should be one of the most beloved stars baseball's ever known.

If anyone now feels like they've missed out, that's a cue to spend the coming days/weeks/months/years making up for lost Beltre watching. But for now, the thing to do is simply stand in appreciation of him. 

Sure, he didn't need to get to 3,000 hits to qualify as one of baseball's all-time greats. Nor is his getting there a rare moment of his deserving to have everyone's attention.

But since Beltre is certainly owed attention, his 3,000th hit is a moment to make the most of. So after beginning with a proper introduction, let's end with a proper toast.

To Adrian Beltre, No. 31 in the 3,000-hit club. And above all, one of a kind.

       

Data courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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